Monday, March 28, 2011

Still Intense on the Mound

Is there any more fitting way to start a bullpen preview of the Red Sox and Yankees? The edge here hinges largely on whether Papelbon wants to back up being intense on the mound with being effective on the mound. If he ends up blowing somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen saves (likely), there's a problem. There's a little more to say about this stuff, but I'll get to it shortly.

An effective bullpen is important for both of these teams, as, with the exception of Sabathia, neither of these teams have guys who can consistently go longer than seven innings at a time. The bullpens will be counted on for a third of each game - more if we're talking about games started by The Bulldog, Matsuzaka, The Bad Beckett, The Bad Burnett, Garcia, and Millwood/Colon/Nova/Mitre/whoever. I can waste my time saying that this might be the year Mariano proves his human-ness, but I don't think it's appropriate to do that until halfway through the first season he shows he is not made of iron. So let's get to it. We'll work backwards.

The Yankees have Mariano, which means their ninth inning will be fine. Their eighth inning will also be fine with Rafael Soriano. Look at the numbers and the worries about him should fade away. It's not like he's been a closer who's logged a lot of innings and is due to burn out (like the Red Sox' closer and the former White Sox closer who is now a Red Sox reliever). He's been a closer for two years, and if he's needed to do it, he can succeed Mariano for at least a little while. The signing, while perhaps an inefficient use of the Yankees' money, is going to help the Yankees for the duration of the contract.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have Papelbon, who was a disaster last year, a semi-disaster in 2009, questionable in 2008, good in 2007, and great in 2006. That trajectory would indicate that come Bastille Day, he's going to be talking about how he doesn't like to be yelled at by Johnny from Burger King and think about retirement more than setting the bar by which other closers are measured. Awesome. Pitch selection has sucked, location has sucked, power has sucked, and he pitches in such a fashion that he really thinks he's back in 2006. When he misses, it's not that he's Matsuzakaing around. He just has no idea where his pitches are going.

The Red Sox also have Bard, who threw a ton of innings last year. I personally think he should take over as the closer, but others have questioned whether he has the mental makeup to do so. If Papelbon does indeed go Foulke 2005 on us, it would be Bobby Jenks taking over. His trajectory the last couple of years has been just as suspect as Papelbon's, except none of Papelbon's superiors have ever said he's a fat man with a drinking problem. Well, at least Okajima's starting the season in Rhode Island. There are marathons being run in that state on April 17th and May 1st, so that clown will be right in his element.

I think Wheeler will be okay, and there will be a revolving door of hit-or-miss guys (I guess Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes are in as of now?). This isn't bothering me much because I don't need to learn how to spell Schoeneweis. On the Yankees' side, I can't really say I know much about Boone Logan and David Robertson except for the hype Pat has bestowed upon Robertson. Feliciano is an interesting guy to have there, because he's appeared in only five fewer games in since 2007 than 46 has - literally. He's been good in many of those games, and if he's going to be a liabililty (same with those two other guys), Pat's going to have to tell you about it.

The piece of the Yankees' bullpen that remains perplexing is the place where Joba Chamberlain's career is. He's apparently never going to be a starter if he's on a Brian Cashman team. I don't know if it's a medical thing, but it can't be strictly a baseball thing, especially seeing that two days ago, Bartolo Colon was scheduled as their fifth starter. He's now overweight and his entire career is in flux. People think that Joba, who is two years and twelve days YOUNGER than 27-year-old Red Sox outfielder 46, is already washed up and done. And maybe he is. He's not throwing the smoke he threw in 2006 anymore - nowhere close. His demise has been even less graceful than Papelbon's, and he's several years younger than that guy, too. This deserves a post in itself - and Pat would probably have to take care of that.

But the bottom line is that while bullpens are always going to be a little shaky by nature, the Yankees' are a bit less shaky than the Red Sox. Papelbon could be downright combustible this year.

8 comments:

PF said...

i don't think we need to turn this into any sort of conversation about joba chamberlain. not that anything you said regarding him was wrong, it was right on point. he's at a crossroads, but the good news for the yankees is that they aren't relying on him for anything. if he's good, great, he'll get a back end role in the bullpen. if he's not, they can comfortably slide him to the 6th inning/situational work because they have a deep pen.

feliciano has the 2nd lowest BAA vs. lefties in the game the last few seasons. he owns them and is seasoned in pressure spots seeing that phillies lefty trio of utley/howard/ibanez 18 times per year for the last few years. i agree that soriano is going to be a nice addition, though i don't think he'll be as good as he was last year. feliciano is a little banged up right now, and you have to worry about that career workload that you alluded to, but these are the two guys that i anticipate will see the most 7th/8th inning high leverage work in front of mariano to start the season. behind them will be joba, robertson, and logan in terms of short work, with colon as the long man. considering robertson and logan were pitching in soriano's and feliciano's roles for much of last season (with a great deal of success for the last four months), anytime you can replace them with even better talent and bump their production down the pecking order, you are increasing depth and creating a great bullpen on paper. however few things in the game translate less cleanly from paper to reality that bullpen production from year to year. so we'll have to see what happens.

i agree that the success of the sox pen largely rests with papelbon, and i also agree that bard should be closing unless papebon shows himself early on to be more productive than he's been recently. i've never heard anything about bard's makeup before this, but i can tell you that it certainly isn't noticeable from an opposing fan's perspective. i understand that he was doing this in the 7th and 8th, and the reason people mention the makeup is in relation to closing, which is certainly a different animal. but he seems cool as a cucumber, and he has some of the most elite stuff in the game. the game that keeps jumping out at me is the one last august where bard came in to a bases loaded, 1 out situation, protecting a 2-0 lead in the 7th, at yankee stadium, and he strikes out jeter and swisher, both swinging, on 6 pitches total. it was the kind of premier blend of dominance and poise that you want to see in a closer.

Anonymous said...

PF

Being a Sox fan I've heard a little of those rumblings about Bard's make-up perhaps not being the best for a closer--but like you, I just have no idea where they're coming from. He never seems to get rattled out there at all and he clearly is the most talented reliever that they have.

DV/PF

The Yankees have the better bullpen. I don't even think this is a debatable issue. It may be a little older, but that doesn't make it any less effective. The biggest reason for this disparity is the difference between Rivera and Papelbon. Rivera shows absolutely no signs of slowing down (it's getting absurd at this point) while Papelbon has gotten worse each year since he came into the league full time and had an awful spring. I'm concerned about the bullpen, but not terrified, if only because they have a lot guys out there who HAVE been good. Doesn't mean they will be this year. But it does mean that there is more of a chance that they can put some combination together that will work.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

gunn -

i think theo is subscribing to a philosophy cashman started utilizing a few years back (with much success). when it comes to relief pitching, put a lot of quantity together and see what sticks. if you have enough arms, you'll typically get enough quality to put together a good pen. cashman has had the luxury of being able to implement this philosophy not having to worry about the closer being part of it, which is obviously ideal. theo isn't quite in that spot, but still in a good enough spot for it to work. more specifically, it is likely that one of papelbon or bard will have a great year, and that person can close. if they both have a great year, even better. it is also likely that one of jenks or wheeler will be good. so then at the very least you have a guy you trust in the 8th and a guy you trust closing. after that you just need a lefty who can get lefties out (doubrount?), and you have enough to at least have a stable late game crew. everything else is a bonus, and between aceves, albers, reyes, okajima, and whoever ends up being the lesser of each of the papelbon/bard and jenks/wheeler pairings, you'll get some production in the middle innings.

what will determine whose pen is better is mariano rivera. if he continues to be mariano rivera, the yankees will certainly have an edge, because they'll have the best in the game closing and a lot of quality and depth around him. whenever he does slow down - and it's going to happen sometime - the yankees will take a big hit. even in a year like this when they have a guy like soriano to fill in. it will just be different. hopefully it doesn't happen this year.

the gm at work said...

I think the Joba conversation will have to come at another time. Doubront is starting the season at AAA, as is Aceves. They figure to be rotation guys at some point of this season.

The Feliciano/46 comparison was meant to be more of a knock at 46, but you already knew that.

All good stuff from everyone here, but I don't think any of us are breaking ground when we reach the collective conclusion of if Papelbon is worse than Rivera, the Yankees are better, and if Rivera's worse than Papelbon, the Red Sox are better.

Anonymous said...

Alright guys I'm trying to get into baseball mode here, which is tough with the NFL draft still being the most important event on the horizon.

I would give the bullpen edge to the Yankees since they have Mariano and not Papelbon. Certainly hoping Papelbon can pick it back up and at least be decent (don't think he will ever be 2006 again) because I enjoy having a character like that on the team. Plus he'll annoy PF with his stupid comments every now and then which is a huge plus.

On to the NBA, what do you guys think about the Rose for MVP movement? People at ESPN are acting like it's a done deal. I think that he could be MVP but don't think he's running away with it. What do you guys think?

the gm at work said...

Bandi,

I'm also boycotting the NFL Draft. But then again, I always do.

Rose is my MVP, but I'm extremely uninformed.

We'd be lucky to see Papelbon even return to 2008. It's like going back to December; it's not actually going to happen. You bet I dropped that reference. But you're onto something regarding his value as a Pat-annoyance.

Patrick said...

you have to love bandi trying to get into baseball mode, and ending his comment with an nba question. classic.

rose is my mvp. he's not a runaway to the point where that couldn't change in the next few weeks. but durant's scoring has come back to the pack a little bit, and he's my only other guy right now (and i think he's very deserving, just not as much as rose). statistically lebron james is the best overall player in this league, but with everything going on in miami he can't win it.

we want to talk about a guy wanting to be "the man", well then how about rose. he has a decent supporting cast, but that roster is far from perfect and he has the best record in the east. he's been dynamic in big games and has put the team on his back through injuries to other key players. a very impressive season and he should get the award in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

PF

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't think Rose was the MVP. Is he the best player in the NBA? No. Is he the best player in the Eastern Conference? No. Is he the Most Valuable Player for the 2010-11 season? Absolutely, for all the reasons that you and others have stated.

Now, I only hope the Celtics can turn it back around...

--the Gunn